Mesothelioma of the Pericardium
Continued from: Types of Mesothelioma
Pericardial mesothelioma, or mesothelioma of the pericardium, is a disease that affects the lining of the heart (pericardium). It is a common misconception that mesothelioma is a type of primary lung cancer; it is not. Mesothelioma is a cancer of the serous membranes. These membranes enclose a number of organs throughout the midsection of the body, including the heart. The most common type of mesothelioma is pleural mesothelioma, which affects the serous membranes of the lungs.
The least common form of mesothelioma cancer is pericardial mesothelioma. Pericardial mesothelioma can spread to the lungs and when this occurs, it is considered secondary lung cancer. Mesothelioma is also sometimes referred to as an asbestos lung cancer. Technically, this is also incorrect, since it does not originate in the lungs. Asbestosis is a type of asbestos lung disease that does originate in the lungs and is often confused with mesothelioma.
Pericardial Mesothelioma Cancer
Pericardial mesothelioma cancer is found in less than 10 percent of mesothelioma patients. While pleural mesothelioma is fairly well understood (inhaled asbestos fibers become imbedded in the lining of the lung and lead to cancerous tumors), pericardial mesothelioma is not. Pleural mesothelioma develops because the inhaled asbestos fibers are very durable and cannot be eliminated through the body's processes. Over time, these fibers cause chronic inflammation that eventually leads to growth of cancerous tumors or, in some cases, asbestosis. In contrast, researchers and doctors are unsure how the asbestos fibers become lodged in the heart’s serous lining, or pericardium. One theory holds that asbestos fibers are broken into smaller pieces in the lungs and then carried into the blood stream. From there, proponents of this theory hypothesize, the fibers are pumped through the heart, become lodged in the heart lining, and cause the chronic inflammation that leads to cancerous growths (as with pleural mesothelioma).
Because pericardial mesothelioma is so rare, there is little specific research on this type of mesothelioma. Approximately 2,000 new cases of mesothelioma are diagnosed each year, and fewer than 200 of them are pericardial mesothelioma.
Pericardial Mesothelioma Symptoms
As in the lung, the rapid growth of the cancerous tumors can cause expansion of the tissue and accumulation of fluid. The fluid can interfere with the functioning of the heart and cause chest pain and irregular heartbeat. Patients are typically diagnosed when they complain of chest pain or other heart-related symptoms after even limited exertion. Shortness of breath and cough are less common symptoms of pericardial mesothelioma cancer. Unlike the lungs, it is less common for other cancers to metastasize to the heart.
Pericardial mesothelioma patients can exhibit all three kinds of mesothelioma cancer cells: epithelioid mesothelioma, sarcomatoid mesothelioma and biphasic mesothelioma. The type of cancer cells can affect the mesothelioma prognosis. It is thought that patients with biphasic mesothelioma cancer cells have a shorter life expectancy.
[Page updated May 2011]